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SCRS calls Audatex feather, prime and block feature inconsistent

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Audatex has failed to act on the Society of Collision Repair Specialists’ request the estimating system address an inconsistency in its five-year-old feather, prime and block digital tool.

Audatex’s 2007 Database Reference Manual states “Audatex does not provide labor or material allowance for the Feather/Prime/Block process” on welded panels. Yet its 2007.5 feather, prime and block entry describes the operation as not-included for repaired panels; it doesn’t mention welded replacement panels. By 2008, Audatex told the Database Enhancement Gateway that labor times for welded replacement panels include feather, prime and block.

But the operation of feather, prime and block still can consume materials, which Audatex explicitly states aren’t included in the labor time for welded panels.

“Audatex recognizes that Feather/Prime/Block are required operations when replacing welded-on panels,” Audatex wrote in the 2019 Database Reference Manual, the most recent as of Friday afternoon. “Time to perform this operation is  included in the Audatex time for welded panel replacement in the seamed areas, to bring the panels to the condition of a new, undamaged panel for the purpose of refinish. Although the time is included, Audatex does not provide a material allowance for the Feather/Prime/Block process. If necessary, the determination and assessment for materials is best provided by the estimate preparer for consideration and allowance during the estimate preparation process.”

Audatex offers a means for auto body shops who are repairing and refinishing panels to designate part of the repair time as feather, prime and block.

According to Audatex’s DBRM, this:

• Displays Feather Prime & Block under refinish labor.

• Calculates Feather Prime & Block materials.

• Identifies Feather Prime & Block labor and materials on the estimate.

When the Feather, Prime & Block feature is enabled, and both Repair and Refinish operations are selected on the Part Edit window, the Repair operation expands to show the breakout of how much of the Repair operation is allocated to the Repair time, and how much is being allocated to FPB (Refinish) (Minor formatting edits.)

Yet Audatex fails to offer the same capability for welded panels, according to SCRS. The repairer can’t automatically break out whatever time Audatex has already calculated and included for feather, prime, and block; display that time under refinish labor; calculate feather, prime and block materials; and identify that labor and materials.

“However, on a welded replacement panel (where Audatex’s current products claim it is INCLUDED in the labor time) there is no breakout of what labor has been assigned to the operation of Feather/Prime/Block in the labor report, and no way to reflect it on the repair plan, and no way to capture materials,” SCRS wrote in a May 19 email to Repairer Driven News. (Emphasis SCRS’.)

The trade group called this “an inconsistent approach, that fails to document or acknowledge that Audatex actually recognizes a time associated with Feather/Prime/Block anywhere other than in the Database Reference Manual positioning. ESPECIALLY for a company who built a product specifically to display how cumulative labor applies to a larger time.” (Emphasis SCRS’.)

It said the discrepancy “suggests a practice of inhibiting repair facilities from being able to capture the labor or materials on welded replacement operations.”

SCRS said it raised the issue of the variation in the user’s ability to represent feather, prime and block in the software to Audatex.

“Thank you for reaching out,” Audatex replied Sept. 11, 2019, according to SCRS. “I can assure you on behalf of Solera that we are earnestly working on FPB.  Since our last discussion, we have made consistent progress.  Solera has worked with multiple shops in the DFW area.  During our onsite shop reviews, we performed in-depth time studies on repairs that include FPB across different vehicle brands and types.  Replacement operations included but were not limited to quarter panels, rocker panels and rear body panels.  During these studies the team referred to Audatex’s list of included operations for each specific vehicle.  In addition, they referred to the manufacturers repair information to ensure the accuracy of our database.  The development team is currently analyzing Audatex internal labor and refinish methodologies to ensure we are aligned with industry trends.  We understand the importance and urgency of this topic.  Going forward we will provide regular communications.  As of now there is no change in the status as we work through the topic of FPB to make certain we address the topic accurately and with supporting research.”

SCRS clarified to Audatex it was addressing the inconsistency of the Audatex software allowing users to break out feather, prime and block they add to repaired panels, but not do so on the feather, prime and block Audatex adds to welded panels.

“Thank you again for reaching out to us regarding the topic of Feather, Prime and Block,” Audatex replied Feb. 28, according to SCRS. “We have escalated this issue on our side and we have several team members investigating.  We are treating this as a high priority escalation.  At this point, we are performing due diligence to ensure that we have reviewed all the facts and that we provide an appropriate update.  We expect to have this work completed and a communication sent by end of March, 2020.  I apologize that we were not able to provide this information sooner.  We appreciate your diligence and patience in pursuing this to resolution.”

SCRS said Audatex issued its follow-up reply March 27:

The issue of Feather, Prime & Block, like many others, continues to be reviewed to ensure we are utilizing industry best practices and delivering the best in class estimating platform.  All information regarding Audatex Estimating is available in our website, which is updated regularly.  As previously mentioned, we appreciate your input and continue to review your feedback.

“We have asked Audatex to address all these issues without affirmative response,” SCRS told us in its May 19 email, referencing both the software issue and its demand for proof Audatex expanded welded replacement times to include FPB. “Instead SCRS was routinely advised that it was being researched, escalated, and prioritized, with no conclusion to date and no further commitment to resolve.”

We asked Audatex for comment and to help explain the inconsistency. We also proposed that the lack of transparency into what feather, prime and block times Audatex added for the welded panels makes it difficult for insurers and repairers to examine and improve the estimating system’s work through mechanisms like the DEG.

Audatex issued the following statement in response to that and our separate inquiry on the 2007-08 change in feather, prime and block policy. (See coverage here.)

We appreciate this opportunity to respond to Repair Driven News’ inquiry. Our team of experts at Solera work hard to ensure that our estimating products provide a valuable benefit to the repair industry by enabling fair and accurate repair estimates.  We bring the industry comprehensive tools that provide detail while also being efficient to use. 

We appreciate organizations in the repair industry, such as SCRS, that raise concerns of and seek clarity for their members. We have worked closely with SCRS and other industry organizations over the years to implement enhancements to our estimating solutions. As to the questions that SCRS has raised about Feather, Prime and Block in the Audatex estimation product, we have reviewed the matter with SCRS in multiple discussions, including meetings at our corporate headquarters. We pointed out to SCRS in 2015 that our product was updated as the industry’s perspective of the Feather, Prime and Block process developed.

We take all industry participants’ suggestions for improvement of our product seriously, but not all suggestions are ultimately incorporated into our products. We recognize that some members of SCRS would prefer that our products detail, as a line item, the time involved in the Feather, Prime and Block processes relating to replacement of welded-on panels. That is not an option currently available in our product.  The time involved in the Feather, Prime and Block operations is included in the overall labor time.

Our current database reference manual, points this out, stating “Audatex recognizes that Feather/Prime/Block are required operations when replacing welded-on panels. Time to perform this operation is included [emphasis added] in the Audatex time for welded panel replacement in the seamed areas, to bring the panels to the condition of a new, undamaged panel for the purpose of refinish. Although the time is included, Audatex does not provide a material allowance for the Feather/Prime/Block process. If necessary, the determination and assessment for materials is best provided by the estimate preparer for consideration and allowance during the estimate preparation process.”

We recognize some repairers consider Feather, Prime and Block as part of the preparation for paint while others consider it as part of the welding repair operation. Our system, as explained in our reference manual, considers the process as part of the welding repair operation and includes the time for the process in the time allotted for the for the welded panel replacement.

We periodically review the times allotted and engage experts to conduct time studies to confirm that the times in our products, such as the times for replacement of welded parts are appropriate for all included operations, whether or not such operations are listed as a line item on the estimates. As we explained to SCRS in September 2019, we specifically worked with multiple shops and performed in-depth time studies on repairs that included Feather, Prime and Block operations. 

You probably noted that SCRS does not question whether the time allotted for the welded panel operation is sufficient.  Instead, the questions are about changes to our product documentation and methodology.  Those questions should not overshadow the fact that no one has questioned the sufficiency of the repair times in our product to include the stated operations. We take pride in ensuring that we provide accurate times for repair and replacement processes.    

Our products – and their documentation – will continue to evolve. The automotive landscape is constantly changing.  Vehicles and their systems as well as the tools used for repair are continuously improving. Our goal is to produce products that empower our customers to work efficiently in the complex repair industry. Solera has always been willing to review, adjust and improve our products to align with changing industry conditions and best practices, and we will continue to do so. 

More information:

2019 Audatex Database Reference Manual (most current as of June 5, 2020 press time)

“AudaExplore Introduces Feather Prime and Block Option”

Audatex YouTube channel, Oct. 23, 2015

Featured image: An Audatex sign hangs from the company’s NACE 2018 booth. (John Huetter/Repairer Driven News)

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